UPDATE: Rhoades: “There is a great need to better understand the centrality of the Eucharist”


HUNTINGTON, Ind. (CNS) – In the months leading up to the United States General Assembly of Bishops June 16-18, the secular and Catholic media headlines focused primarily on one issue: the potential of a document on Eucharistic coherence and what this would mean in the political sphere.

Since the bishops voted to move forward with the drafting of the declaration, media attention has become even more acute – and confusing.

In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, a Huntington-based Catholic national weekly, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, who chairs the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference and who is also chairman of the OSV board of directors, explained why the bishops voted to write an educational document on the mystery of the Eucharist and what it means for all American Catholics.

Our Sunday visitor: Can you explain why a document on the Eucharist, including a section on Eucharistic coherence, is so important in our present time and culture?

Bishop Rhoades: As the Bishops discussed at our meeting, there is a great need for a Eucharistic awakening in the church, for a deeper understanding of the Eucharistic mystery and its centrality in our life. The Doctrine Committee has been tasked with preparing this document. The outline that we presented to the body of bishops takes up the outline followed by Pope Benedict XVI in his apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” (“The Sacrament of Charity”): the Eucharist as a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated and a mystery to live. In the section on the Eucharist as a mystery to be lived, the theme of Eucharistic coherence arises. We are called to live what we receive, to live in a manner consistent with the love given by Jesus which is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice. This relates to our call to be missionary disciples. In our present time and culture, there is a temptation to privatize our faith or to separate our celebration and reception of holy communion from our responsibility to live in communion with the Church and to live a life in accordance with the deep meaning of the Church. ‘Eucharist, the sacrament of charity.

Our Sunday Visitor: Now that the document has been approved for drafting, what will the process be as it progresses?

Bishop Rhoades: The Doctrine Committee will soon get to work on drafting the document. As has been recommended by several of my brother bishops, we will be receiving contributions from regional meetings of bishops across the country. I look forward to their ideas and contributions. We will then share the eventual draft with several other USCCB committees to receive their suggestions and comments. We will also send the draft document to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as we always do in the preparation of doctrinal statements. I think this broad consultation will be very useful. Most importantly, throughout this process, I especially pray to the Holy Spirit to pour out his gifts of wisdom and counsel as we prepare the text. I have also asked many of the faithful to pray for us in the coming months.

Our Sunday visitor: Some media reported that with the vote to proceed with the drafting of the document, the bishops challenged the Vatican. That’s what happened ?

Bishop Rhoades: No. I am disappointed with this misinterpretation. As bishops, we are committed to teaching in communion with the Pope. As I mentioned, we will be in consultation with the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during this process as it will be a teaching document on the Eucharist. I am grateful for the letter that Archbishop (José) Gomez received from Cardinal (Luis) Ladaria emphasizing dialogue and unity among the bishops. We are preparing a doctrinal reflection and not national standards, because these would exceed the competence of our commission.

Our Sunday Visitor: Some commentators have said that it is “unprecedented” for the body of bishops to move forward on an issue when so many bishops oppose it. Ultimately, however, 75% of bishops voted to move forward with the drafting – not exactly a narrow majority. Based on your experience as a member of the conference for almost 20 years, is this decision to proceed with the drafting of the document after such a margin unprecedented?

Bishop Rhoades: I really don’t remember since the conference prepared many documents and declarations over the past two decades. I am optimistic that next November there will be an even greater number of bishops who will support the document we have prepared.

Our Sunday Visitor: Several bishops have requested, or recommended, that the third part of the declaration outline – the part that includes the section on Eucharistic coherence – be deleted, but you do not agree with this approach, saying, “I don’t think we should ignore what the real discipline of the church is. What is this discipline and what is it for?

Bishop Rhoades: First of all, I don’t think that we can present the whole teaching on the Eucharist without including the section on the Eucharist as a mystery to be lived, and, in this section, the call to Eucharistic coherence. This is related to the discipline of the church which dates back to the New Testament. Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily shall answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and thus eat the bread and drink the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself ”(1 Cor 11: 27-29). The tradition of the church through the ages has included the discipline regarding the reception of Holy Communion. This discipline is expressed today in canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law and canons 711 and 712 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In our document, we hope to present a clear understanding of why the church has these laws, by explaining the deep teaching that is the basis of these canons. Canon 915 concerns those who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion. Canon 916 concerns the need to be in a state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion. The laws of the Church are ordained for the salvation of souls. And these disciplinary laws serve a medical rather than a punitive purpose.

Our Sunday Visitor: Many bishops said in the meeting that a pastoral issue has emerged as the United States now has a Catholic president who is pushing forward a strong abortion agenda, as well as many other social problems. which are contrary to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church – while receiving Holy Communion. Is it fair to say that this document is a necessary pastoral tool to respond to this reality?

Bishop Rhoades: This document will be sent to all Catholics. We are all called to a continual conversion and to Eucharistic coherence. We are all called to come out of Mass to glorify the Lord through our life, to bear witness to Christ through our words and actions. We are called to bear witness to the Gospel of life and to respect and defend the life and dignity of every human person, including the child in his mother’s womb. The Catechism (of the Catholic Church) teaches that the Eucharist educates us in love and commits us to the poor. Pope Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have all written beautifully about the social implications of the Eucharist. I hope our document will underline this. It is important that we understand that, as Pope Benedict wrote, “worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter, without consequences for our relationships with others: it requires a public witness to our faith” .

Our Sunday Visitor: It has become a popular argument in recent months that a document that includes a teaching on Eucharistic coherence can “arm the Eucharist”. How would you respond to that?

Bishop Rhoades: I believe that the Church’s teaching on Eucharistic coherence honors the presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and helps us to understand that the Eucharist is a mystery to be lived. The Eucharist is an extraordinary gift from the Lord which we are called to receive humbly and with gratitude and which the Lord has given us as food for our souls. The notion of Eucharistic coherence reminds us that we must be well disposed to receive the Eucharist. This includes ecclesial communion and assent to the deposit of faith contained in Scripture and tradition, which the apostles entrusted to the Church. Eucharistic coherence implies our communion with the mystical body of Christ, the Church, which the Eucharistic body of Christ builds up.

Our Sunday Visitor: What else would you like to add that might help clarify the procedure?

Bishop Rhoades: We are trying to write a document that will contribute to a true Eucharistic awakening in the church of our nation by highlighting the truth about the incredible gift that Jesus gave us on the eve of his death, the importance of beauty and respect in our celebration of this great mystery, and the wonderful graces that we receive in the Eucharist to grow in our Christian life. Although there are disagreements among us bishops, I pray that with our common faith in this great sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, we will be united as shepherds and teachers and help our people to grow in as faithful disciples of the Lord. Jesus.

CNS: You mentioned in your comments that it is not just about abortion. Someone who is a white supremacist or who is a human trafficker might also be challenged. Critics have asked if you would also include Catholic leaders who support the death penalty or who have approved executions in the line of duty?

Bishop Rhoades: In a document addressed to all Catholics, it will cover the wide range of Catholic social education. All of us, as Catholics, can come together in this teaching.

CNS: Many bishops have expressed concern about the impact of this debate on the unity of the conference and the church. How much will this concern the writers of the document, and what direction will you give them in this regard while they are writing it?

Bishop Rhoades:

What we saw last week was a passionate dialogue about the meaning of the Eucharist for my brother bishops. The love for the Eucharist and the gratitude that we all feel and want to share as we encounter the real presence of Jesus Christ in holy communion are powerfully unifying realities for the whole body of Christ. Important discussions about the details of the conference process will still not distract from the bond we share in Christ. As dialogue and consultation continue in the weeks to come, we will approach them together in prayer. I hope that we can serve as a model for a society which must approach difficult problems with more civility.

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Crowe is the editorial director of periodicals at the OSV. Follow her on Twitter: @GretchenOSV.

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